Fans of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue may be surprised by the newest model to grace the pages of the upcoming issue.
It’s a doll — Barbie, to be specific. The 55-year-old female icon will be featured in a spread, shot by the same photographer who shot cover model Kate Upton and her fellow swimsuit-wearing women. Mattel is also releasing a special edition Sports Illustrated swimsuit doll, and a new ad campaign featuring the hashtag #unapologetic.
— Barbie (@Barbie) February 10, 2014
Let’s start with the obvious question. Why would Mattel want to put a doll made for little girls in a magazine made for grown men?
“The swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated actually reaches quite a few women,” says Lisa McKnight, senior vice president of marketing for North America at Mattel.
The women who purchase the magazine for fashion reasons are potential Barbie fans.
“Target is a big sponsor of this issue, and then will sell a swimwear line in their stores,” says McKnight.
Also available at Target: The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition of Barbie, whose full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. The doll will be featured in a modern version of the black and white swimsuit that she wore when she was introduced to the world in 1959. Toy analyst Sean McGowan says this isn’t the first time Mattel has marketed Barbie to adults.
“There was a big store in Shanghai that actually had a bar. That doesn’t seem very kid friendly,” McGowan says.
But putting Barbie in a swimsuit magazine is a very risky move.
“For example,” says McGowan, “my wife is an ardent feminist and a teacher of girls from K-12. And she has only reluctantly come around to the idea that Barbie can be used to project positive images of empowerment, and choice, and career options.”
Barbie’s appearance in a magazine that objectifies the female body, adds McGowan, could undo the progress Mattel has made in convincing parents that Barbie is a positive role model.